How to Fire Someone, Anyone, Like a Boss

In business, there’s going to be times that put your toughness or timidity, to the test. If you’re an owner, partner, or manager, you might be tasked with firing someone. It could be your employee, your business lawyer, your accountant, a vendor, or someone else. You’ve heard that character is defined by what you do when nobody’s looking, and though giving someone the boot generally happens in a private setting, the other person will be walking out with their own perspective. So, it’s imperative you don’t turn a bad situation worse.

Your goal is threefold, to end the relationship, to maintain your good reputation, and to do so with grace and respect. Even someone that’s toxic deserves your forbearance, because it says a lot about you as a person, and, as a leader. It also preserves a semblance of the relationship, something that might be valuable in future encounters and situations. You might even find yourself in the unenviable position of rehiring that same person.

How to Fire Someone, Anyone, Like a Boss

A firing begins with the first signs of trouble. In those moments, you might feel anger or surprise, depending on what occurs. What you should do when problems begin to arise, is to get to the underlying reasons. Approach him or her, ask questions, and listen to the answers. If the problems persist, try mentoring or some other type of support. Should that not bring the desired change, set boundaries and benchmarks.

Firing an employee–looking someone straight in the eye and telling them they no longer have a source of income–is one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do as a business owner. It’s often as hard on the person giving the bad news as it is on the person receiving it. And yet it still needs to be done, especially if you have someone who’s “poisoning the well” and bringing the entire business down with them. —Entrepreneur

Even at these great lengths, you might still find the problem isn’t being solved. So, when the decision to part ways is the last option, know your legal limits. If you’re in an “at-will” employment state, you generally won’t have a problem. However, if he or she is under contract, run it by your attorney. Now, if it’s someone who is involved in impropriety, that’s a whole other manner, because it might be a criminal matter, and, you might be civilly liable.

When the time comes to have the actual meeting, do the following:

  • See him or her early in the day. There are several reasons for this, one is for your own benefit, because you’ll be distracted if you wait. Other reasons are you’re not wasting his or her time (which he or she will feel cheated and/or used), you are taking poor work out of his or her hands and giving it to someone who is competent, and, you’re sending a message to others that you listen and act when someone else isn’t working out.
  • Be direct, honest, but not blameful. If it’s reached the point that firing is the only option, he or she is probably quite aware of what’s going on and how it will end. If the individual is not aware or seems blindsided, then you need to look at your Leadership and Management communication as it relates to setting expectations, boundaries and clear direction. Give reasons why, don’t sugarcoat them, but do not be blameful or belligerent.
  • Give praise where it’s deserved. You can give points of praise where it’s deserved but don’t overdo it. Be genuine and graceful while keeping yourself aware of how it’s being received.
  • Be ready to listen. Being told you’re no longer needed or feel unwanted are powerful emotional stirs. You might hear insults, threats, or other unpleasantness, but it’s out of an emotional outburst, don’t take it personally.
  • Explain what will happen next. The finality might take time to sink-in, and, you’ll do him or her a great service by explaining what happens next. For instance, returning company property, retirement account options, these sorts of things.

Another kind gesture is to allow them to say goodbye and get their personal possessions together. Rushing someone out the door isn’t dignified, and, it creates a lingering, negative perception that will be with those you still employ. Show courtesy, respect, and empathy and you’ll make the best of a bad situation.

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